Why are ‘firms of endearment”—rising industry leading stars that have created huge emotional bonds with the world such as Toyota, Whole Foods, GE, and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters—generating investor returns at a rate of some 1,026 percent over a ten year period compared to 122 percent for the S&P 500; more that a 8-to-1 ratio!
It’s because going green is a magic. It’s a productivity engine. What happens, in a nutshell, is a leap in human energy. What happens is an eruption of human imagination. What is generated is a culture of innovation, hope, and a powerful sense of purpose, meaning, and value.
The untold story about the companies embracing sustainability is really an HR story. It is all about the kind of super-charged employee engagement—heart, mind, and motivation—that every C.E.O wants.
How, for example, did Fairmount Minerals do it? Imagine it: you are a loader-operator in the sand pits of this dirty, hard-core mining and manufacturing company, and yet you are on fire with pride, and the company has realized a sizzling 40% annual earnings growth for the past two years, ever since it decided to harness the sustainability advantage to “do good and do well.”
Let me tell you Fairmount’s remarkable story, and some of the leadership lessons you can take to the bank.
Fairmount Minerals, headquartered in Chardon, Ohio, is one of the largest producers of industrial sand in the United States. Primarily serving the metal casting and fracture sand markets, Fairmount Minerals supports the foundry, oil and gas industries as well as turf and landscaping, water filtration, commercial glass manufacturing, construction, industrial, and filler and extender markets. With two basic operating divisions – Industrial Sand and Manufacturing – the company runs nine mining and mineral processing plants, four manufacturing coating plants, and two toll manufacturing operations in Mexico, Denmark and soon China.
It so happens that Chuck Fowler, CEO of Fairmount Minerals, received his Executive MBA from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, the birthplace of Appreciative Inquiry, something that is creating a positive revolution in the field of change.
Following the strengths-based leadership philosophy of Peter Drucker, Appreciative Inquiry says that“the essential task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make a systems’ weaknesses irrelevant.”
It says that managing and leading change is ALL about strengths: elevating strengths, magnifying strengths, and creating new combinations and chemistries of strengths in ways that propel innovation.
What’s involved? First, it is based on an innovator’s mindset. It insists on a mindset that says “every single global issue of our day is a business opportunity in disguise.” Second, the Sustainable Design Factory is multi-stakeholder savvy. It is all about collaborative, high engagement innovation. Fairmount’s summit was a model: 300 people from every level of the company—loader operators and truck drivers to the chief financial officer and the head of marketing—together with key external stakeholders including customers, suppliers, community citizens, investors, external sustainability experts, best practice companies, and critics of Fairmount (yes the summit included NGOs and even regulators in Fairmount’s strategic planning session!).
Does it sound like a formula for chaos, that is, bringing together 300 of the most diverse stakeholders you can imagine for three days of planning where no-one has a pre-set plan or blueprint ahead of time?
The CEO Chuck Fowler put it best: “yes we were nervous to co-create from scratch, with such a large group, but do you know what we discovered…we learned that the very best in human beings comes out when people experience the wholeness and entire sum of strengths of the system they work in.”
Using an intense, quick-turnaround, brainstorm-and-prototype process the sustainable design factory was buzzing. Groups were formed to design ways to reduce social and environmental risks; to create models for radical productivity increases in energy use; to invent green products; to open new market opportunities to help eradicate extreme poverty; to build brand strategy around sustainability and a new set of guiding principles; and to use the 3-P’s—the people, planet and prosperity mantra– to help the whole industry shift.
Today the company is off and running with solar power and biodiesel, new packaging, a whole line of green products, new collaborative tools to engage communities and restore old mines into beautiful parkland, and much more. Talk about going green with velocity and early payoff: one of the ideas generated at the summit resulted in a six million dollar savings. And one of the employees’ favorites—a source of great pride– was the design of an ultra low-cost sand water filter to create clean water in parts of the world where billions of people live on less that $2 per day. Working with the Aqua Clara Foundation the project now works in 35 countries providing clean water to over 1 million people while at the same time opening up whole new, unexpected markets for the Fairmount Minerals business.
Just two years after the launch of their sustainability journey Fairmount Minerals was selected by the US Chamber of Commerce and the #1 corporate citizen in America. Today Fairmount’s people are being asked to speak everywhere—most recently on a world stage at the United Nations Global Compact. At one of the forums the CFO of the company, Jenniffer Deckard pounds the podium with excitement: “We can do good and do well.”
This is what going green at maximum velocity is really all about.
To read more on the Fairmount Minerals story see Chris Lazslo’s new book on Sustainable Value; and to see a the video of the Sustainable Design Factory in Action go to the Fairmount Minerals website at www.fairmountminerals.com